By Karen Ryce
Q. “We’ve read some of your columns. We’ve never treated our children any different than our parents treated us, but we’re considering trying out some of what you’ve said. Our oldest daughter is nine, our son is six and our youngest daughter is three. We have no idea how to get started. What do you suggest?”
H.R., Briceland, CA
A: Start with a family meeting. Be sure to find a time when it is convenient for everyone. Make sure that everyone is feeling good and unstressed. If someone is in a bad mood, it is better to deal with that problem before starting the meeting. Ask them what help they need to be in a good mood for the meeting.
At the meeting explain that you want to solve problems differently in your family than you have in the past. Say clearly how you think they have been solved in the past. Ask if this seems right to everyone else.
After you have reached an understanding, tell your children what you don’t want to do any more. Explain that from now on you would like it if everyone would do their best to solve problems in ways that feel good to everyone involved.
If you and your mate could have a short example of some disagreement that you solved using brainstorming, and negotiating a win-win solution, you can offer to tell them that as an example.
Then ask if any of the children has a problem that they would like to share so that everyone could practice with it as a starter. Reassure them that this new way of doing things means that you end up with an answer that everyone involved feels good about. Wait for one of them to come up with an idea.
If they don’t come up with an idea, then tell them that you have an idea if one of them does not have one. Then wait again. It is good if one of the children can come up with a suggestion, but it’s not essential. Maybe they need to see this process at work for them to trust that it will be good for them.
Let’s say you all decide to deal with bedtimes, or meal times, or chores. Be sure you have paper and pen. For this first time it might be best for one of the adults to do the writing because they will be able to write down the ideas more quickly. You don’t want to lose the children to boredom.
However, if one of the children wants to do the writing, and the others don’t object, let them write. It can make all of the children trust the process more.
Explain that during brainstorming, the person who is writing writes down all of the ideas that anyone comes up with, but that no one should worry, because only the ideas that everyone feels good about will be used. All the ideas are written down so that:
- none of the ideas are forgotten
- everyone feels respected for their contribution
- when ideas are flowing because none of them are blocked, you are more likely to discover those ideas which will solve your problem
When no one can come up with any more ideas, then you start the process of negotiating.
First you must eliminate all the ideas or parts of ideas that any one of you doesn’t like. In the unlikely circumstance that your first brainstorming ideas are all eliminated, you can do the session again at another time, unless everyone is up for doing it then.
You settle on that idea or combination of ideas that you can all agree on. You put it into practice for a limited period of time, checking back with each other to make sure it is still working.
At the end of the meeting say that you would like all the fights and problems in the family to be settled this way, between you and your partner, between the children or between the children and parents. Tell the children that if they want your help to solve things just to let you know, and that if you hear them fighting you are going to ask them if they want help to find a win-win solution to the problem.
This process may seem time consuming, but once everyone is practiced at it, you can eliminate the writing, and finding agreements becomes almost automatic. Then the peace in the family seems worth all the efforts at changing in the beginning.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Ryce, the Miracle Worker of Education and Parenting, has used the Power of Respect for more than 35 years. She started a Montessori school in 1973, gives talks and workshops to parents and teachers.